When people hear that I teach and speak about mindfulness meditation for a living, the most common response I get is, “Oh, good for you! But I can’t meditate. I’ve tried, but my mind never shuts off.”
I give them a big smile and say, “We ALL have busy minds! Including me, even though I’ve been meditating daily for years. It’s part of being human.”
If they seem open to learning more, I continue, “One of the biggest misconceptions about mindfulness meditation is that we have to stop our minds from thinking. Our brain is continually thinking and processing – even in our sleep our minds are at work!”
During meditation, thoughts and feelings can actually be welcomed as part of our practice. We recognize them and allow them to pass without judgement or attachment.
No matter how busy your mind is, you can learn to improve your brain health, boost your productivity, and manage your stress and anxiety through the practice of mindfulness meditation.
When I explain mindfulness meditation in this way, some people become interested enough to begin the real journey – learning through actual practice.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions by people embarking on the practice of mindfulness meditation:
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
“Mindfulness” means paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment. You can practice mindfulness in an informal way by bringing your full attention to any part of your daily life such as washing the dishes, talking to a friend, or eating dinner. This informal practice is simply called “mindfulness.” You can practice mindfulness in a formal way by setting aside time to sit in a controlled environment and train your brain to keep coming back to the present moment. This formal practice is called “mindfulness meditation” or “mindful meditation.”
“Meditation” means to focus, so you could technically meditate on anything from the sound of your alarm clock in the morning to the flame of a candle to painting of a wall in your home. Meditation is an umbrella term much like “sports.” There are many different types of sports, and they all help you get good at different things. There are also many different types of meditation, and they help you train your brain in different ways.
You can think of mindfulness meditation as one type of meditation, one where the focus is continually brought back to some aspect of the present moment.
How should I position my body for mindfulness meditation?
Sitting is the optimal meditation position because it provides the perfect balance of focus and relaxation. Try sitting cross legged with a cushion beneath your seat to raise your hips above your knees. You can also sit in a regular chair with your feet flat on the floor.
If you are feeling particularly anxious or unsettled, it can be helpful to lie down for practice to bring more ease to the central nervous system. There are also certain meditations where lying down is suggested such as in sound meditation and body scan meditation.
If you find yourself sleepy during meditation, try making yourself less comfortable – sit up instead of lying down, or move your back away from the support of the chair when seated. You can even meditate standing up if you are not able to stay awake while seated. (If you do finish a meditation and realize you slept through part of it, no worries – you definitely needed that sleep! In the future, take steps to make yourself less comfortable and more alert, especially if you are interested in the attention raining benefits of mindfulness meditation.)
What do I do during mindfulness meditation?
During mindfulness meditation we keep our focus in the present moment by directing our attention to anchors such as breath, body, or sensory inputs. When you’re paying attention to these anchors, your mind is inherently in the present moment rather than distracted by the future or the past. When beginning mindfulness meditation, it’s best to receive the benefits of guided practices through an app or a live teacher. The guidance will direct you toward different aspects of your present moment experience through paying attention to these anchors.
What will happen when I meditate?
In mindfulness meditation we become more aware of the present moment. You may notice subtleties such as the temperature, smells, sounds, or your physical body.
Am I doing this right?
There is no wrong way to meditate as long as you are learning how to meditate. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Mindfulness for Beginners, “If you are aware of what is happening, you are ‘doing it right,’ no matter what is happening. What’s more, it’s all right to be experiencing what you are experiencing, even if you don’t like it or it doesn’t feel very ‘meditative.’ Actually it is perfect. It is the curriculum of the present moment, of your life unfolding here and now.”
What progress should I expect?
One of the pillars of mindfulness practice is non-striving, or being more focused on being present for the process than on achieving certain goals. That being said, as you progress in your mindfulness practice, there are key points to look for: stillness, ease of being, the present moment, freedom from time and heightened awareness. In addition to these experiences during meditation, you may also notice lower stress levels, improved ability to focus, and overall well-being in the rest of your life.
Learn more about Mastermind class offerings and sign up today by visiting mastermindmeditate.com.
As Chief Mindfulness Officer of Mastermind Meditation, Dorsey Standish brings research-backed mindfulness and mindful movement to clients throughout the state of Texas. A lifelong learner and scientist, Dorsey has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and is enrolled in the UT Dallas Applied Cognition and Neuroscience Master’s Program. After mindfulness transformed her own work, health and relationships, Dorsey left her corporate role at Texas Instruments to share the power of mindfulness with others full-time. Dorsey’s teachings combine neuroscience research with her experiences in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program and multiple weekend and 10-day silent meditation retreats. Join Dorsey for one of Mastermind’s upcoming applied mindfulness programs at mastermindmeditate.com/programs.